Friday, March 7, 2008
The Lyre is a stringed instrument consisting of a resonance box or bowl with strings suspended from the base to a crossbar supported by two arms parallel to its surface. The earliest-known instrument were box lyres about three and a half feet in length found in Sumerian civilization about 3000 BC. The instrument spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean, Homer and other bards used it to accompany their epic poems. The research of the musicologist Curt Sachs reveals a basic pentatonic (5-tone) tuning even when the number of strings had reached 11, as in the Greek kithara of the 5th century BC. The lyre was played by plucking the strings, either with a large plectrum while the fingers of the hand damped unwanted strings, or with both plecktrum and bare fingers. The lyre spread southward to Ethiopia and the headwaters of the Nile and Congo, where it is still played, and from greece across Europe. A bowed instrument after 1000 BC, the lyre was ubiquitous during the Middle Ages and survived untill recently in Wales, Estonia, and Finland.